Ben Stein's TV ads for a scuzzy "free" credit product have finally caught up to him: The New York Times has fired Stein as a Sunday business columnist for violating ethics guidelines.

Stein was pilloried online for his endorsement of the bait-and-switch operation, which offers a free credit score but charges an outrageous $30 per month to see the credit report behind the score. As Reuters blogger Felix Salmon pointed out, consumers can get a free online report under federal law.

The Times' issue, though, is that Stein has violated its ethics policy, which states "it is an inherent conflict for a journalist to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid." Salmon blogged about that issue, too. It's surprising that it hasn't come up until now; Stein has been a regular contributor to the Times for four years, and is quite recognizable to TV audiences. After playing a high-school teacher in the 1986 movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off (R.I.P. John Hughes), Stein went on to host two shows on Comedy Central, including the Emmy-award-winning Win Ben Stein's Money, and a show on VH1. He also frequently appeared in cameo roles on sitcoms like Seinfeld.

A tipster informed us this morning that Stein had been given the boot, and Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis has confirmed, writing:

Ben Stein's fine work for us as a columnist for Sunday Business had to end, we told him, after we learned that he had become a commercial spokesman for FreeScore, a financial services company. Ben didn't understand when he signed on with FreeScore that this might pose a potential conflict for him as a contributing columnist for the Times, because he hadn't written about credit scores or this company. But, we decided that being a commercial spokesman for FreeScore while writing his column wouldn't be appropriate.

We are sorry to lose him as a columnist, and appreciate his work for the Times over the years.

Stein retains his career as a sometime TV pundit (Fox News, CBS Sunday Morning, CNBC), his column on Yahoo! Finance and his "diary" at American Spectator, the once-fearsome conservative journal. He also has any residuals from his reviled anti-evolution movie.

We wonder if Stein will continue calling himself an "economist," as he did in the Times...

Pitchman Ben Stein Gets Economist Ben Stein Fired at the New York TimesS


...even though his only economics degree is a B.A., from Columbia. We never understood how he had earned the "economist" label, but, at this point, whatever.